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Family and Friends

How to tell your friends you’re not OK when they ask how you are

Opening up can feel scary, but it’s also incredibly important. Here’s how to be honest when your friends ask, “How are you?”.     

Talking to other people about your emotions can be incredibly scary, even when that person is someone you know well. 

It’s why so many of us will answer every “how are you?” thrown our way with a quick and easy “I’m fine” or, “I’m good, what about you?” – oftentimes, it feels easier to mask how you’re feeling rather than get down to the nitty-gritty.

But just because it’s easy to pretend you’re OK all the time, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. Whether or not you’re struggling, talking to others about how you’re feeling is incredibly important – not only can it be the first step towards seeking help or support (if necessary), but it also just helps you to feel less alone in your experiences.  

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However, knowing when, where and how to have those types of conversations can be a challenge in itself. Wanting to be more honest about how you’re feeling is one thing – but how can you actually go about doing that?

To find out more, we spoke to Anna Williamson, a TV presenter, author, NLP practitioner and host of Breaking Mum And Dad: The Podcast. Here’s what she had to say.  

Why do we find it so hard to admit when we’re not OK?

According to Williamson, the number one reason why we find it so hard to admit when we’re not OK is because it requires us to be vulnerable.

“It’s such a deeply personal thing to open up and say how we’re really feeling,” she says. “When we’re not OK, it’s one of the most vulnerable things we can do to admit it, so we need to trust in the person we share that information with. Opening up about our struggles can feel like opening a can of worms and we need to be in the right headspace to cope with that and where it may go.”

Williamson continues: “Many people wrongly think that being honest about feelings is a sign of weakness when it’s actually the complete opposite, and a sign of bravery and strength to share personal worries and fears.” 

Two people talking
“Many people wrongly think that being honest about feelings is a sign of weakness when it’s actually the complete opposite, and a sign of bravery and strength to share personal worries and fears.”

How much is too much to comes to sharing how you really feel? Is there such a thing as TMI?

As long as you feel comfortable sharing, Williamson says there’s really no such thing as sharing “too much” about how you’re feeling.

“Finding someone you trust with the information you want to share is what’s key, and having the confidence in them to listen,” she says. “Everyone has a different idea of what they constitute as TMI, so know your audience and entrust people with the same mindset as you with the topics you consider ‘risky’ so you feel empathised with and not misunderstood.”

When is the right time to share how you’re feeling, and when is the wrong time?

While there’s no need to overthink when you decide to open up about how you’re feeling, Williamson recommends keeping a few things in mind.

“Timing can be important – choose an appropriate time when the person you’d like to help and listen to you is fully available, and when they can give you the focus and attention you need. Offloading a big worry at the wrong time, for example, when someone is preoccupied or stressed, might hinder you being able to be fully vulnerable.” 

Williamson adds that opening up as soon as possible when something’s going on is important, too. “I’m a big advocate of early intervention,” she says. “Prevention is better than cure in most cases, so as soon as you’ve got a niggle of worry, or something is bothering you, get it off your chest as soon as possible, before it festers and has the potential to become a bigger issue.”

How can we change the narrative around the, “How are you?” question and encourage our friends to open up, too?

When it comes to asking other people how they’re feeling, Williamson suggests starting by rewording the question.

“[‘How are you?’] is such a simple question that we are often blasé about this,” she says. “It’s usually trotted out as a throw-away pleasantry in daily chat, so perhaps think about rephrasing it to get a much more true and honest answer i.e., ‘How have things been for you recently?’ or, ‘Is there anything you’d like to talk about?’” 

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If you know that one of your friends finds it particularly difficult to open up, Williamson also recommends sharing your own thoughts and feelings first, as this will help them to feel more comfortable and encourage them to start talking.

“We often mirror each other’s behaviour, so being open and honest about how we’re feeling can act as a gateway for our loved ones to follow suit. Letting them know that you’re there for them, and ready to listen to anything they might want to share, will be a huge comfort.” 

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health or emotional wellbeing, you can find support and resources on the mental health charity Mind’s website and NHS Every Mind Matters or access the NHS’ guide to local mental health helplines and organisations here.

If you are struggling, you can also ask your GP for a referral to NHS Talking Therapies, or you can self-refer.

You can also call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or email for confidential support.

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